On March 19, 2020, the Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, signed into law a a recently introduced bill (A-3859, S-2276), which authorizes the governor to issue an executive order to prohibit evictions for residential properties during a declared emergency, such as the current Coronavirus or COVID-19 emergency. After signing the bill, the governor issued Executive Order No. 106, which formally prohibits the enforcement of judgments of possession in New Jersey (i.e. the lockout itself). The prohibition on lockouts will extend up to two months after the end of the declared emergency.
It is important to understand two things about this executive order. First, the executive order only prohibits the lockout of the tenant. Landlords may still file eviction complaints and obtain judgments of possession, though they should consider whether obtaining such a judgment while it cannot be enforced is worthwhile. Second, the prohibition is not absolute as the order allows courts to permit a lockout if such a lockout is “necessary in the interest of justice.” The executive order does not specify what circumstances would justify a lockout during this emergency, but potentially a court would allow a lockout if the tenant was causing damage to the property or using the property for criminal purposes. Landlords should keep this executive order in mind when they evaluate their rent collection and eviction process during the current health emergency.
If you are a concerned landlord with questions about this issue, contact litigation attorney Charles Montgomery at 856-354-7700, or you may contact us here.